May 22, 2006

On Why Wired Posted The AT&T Docs [3:33 pm]

Wired News: Why We Published the AT&T Docs

A file detailing aspects of AT&T’s alleged participation in the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretap operation is sitting in a San Francisco courthouse. But the public cannot see it because, at AT&T’s insistence, it remains under seal in court records.

[...] AT&T claims information in the file is proprietary and that it would suffer severe harm if it were released.

Based on what we’ve seen, Wired News disagrees. In addition, we believe the public’s right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T’s claims to secrecy.

As a result, we are publishing the complete text of a set of documents from the EFF’s primary witness in the case, former AT&T employee and whistle-blower Mark Klein — information obtained by investigative reporter Ryan Singel through an anonymous source close to the litigation. The documents, available on Wired News as of Monday, consist of 30 pages, with an affidavit attributed to Klein, eight pages of AT&T documents marked “proprietary,” and several pages of news clippings and other public information related to government-surveillance issues.

Slashdot: Wired Releases Full Text of AT&T NSA Document

Later: a WaPo article — Web Site Says Papers May Be From Lawsuit Filed Against AT&T

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I Don’t Think There’s Any “May” About It [3:30 pm]

Voice Encryption May Draw U.S. Scrutiny

Philip R. Zimmermann wants to protect online privacy. Who could object to that?

He has found out once already. Trained as a computer scientist, he developed a program in 1991 called Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, for scrambling and unscrambling e-mail messages. It won a following among privacy rights advocates and human rights groups working overseas — and a three-year federal criminal investigation into whether he had violated export restrictions on cryptographic software. The case was dropped in 1996, and Mr. Zimmermann, who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., started PGP Inc. to sell his software commercially.

Now he is again inviting government scrutiny. On Sunday, he released a free Windows software program, Zfone, that encrypts a computer-to-computer voice conversation so both parties can be confident that no one is listening in. It became available earlier this year to Macintosh and Linux users of the system known as voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP.

What sets Zfone apart from comparable systems is that it does not require a web of computers to hold the keys, or long numbers, used in most encryption schemes. Instead, it performs the key exchange inside the digital voice channel while the call is being set up, so no third party has the keys.

Slashdot’s Online: Zimmermann, Encrypted VoIP, and Uncle Sam

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Google and Transparency [9:53 am]

The One Bit of Info Google Withholds: How It Works - [pdf]

“It’s somewhat of a paradox,” said Jordan Rohan, a financial analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “Google’s whole purpose is to make information easier to access — unless, of course, you want to know information about Google.”

[...] Although Google playfully reveals how much chicken and coffee its engineers consume every month, as it did during Google Press Day last year, the company won’t disclose much potentially helpful information about its core business, such as how many search queries it returns, how many companies advertise through Google and whether ad prices are increasing or decreasing.Google’s unwillingness to disclose little more than the legally required basics of how it does what it does — and where it’s headed — has left advertisers puzzled, partners confused, competitors nervous and investors frustrated. Even seasoned Wall Street analysts are left scratching their heads at precisely how Google posted $6.1 billion in revenue last year.

[...] Search advertising is praised as a cost-effective way to reach consumers when they have something specific on their minds. It’s also maddeningly complex. Unlike Yellow Pages or newspapers, many marketers have little clue when or where their ads will appear. That’s because Google’s system is a dynamic auction. Advertisers bid for placement, but price is only one factor in ranking the ads. Google also uses “click-through-rate” — if ads aren’t clicked on much, they will be replaced by others that are. Searchers are more likely to be interested in those ads, which helps marketers sell products and Google get paid.

“It’s a great system,” said Joshua Stylman, managing partner at Reprise Media Inc., a New York firm that manages search campaigns for advertisers such as Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., BellSouth Corp. and Guess Inc. “Inherently all of the constituencies have the same incentive.”

But it’s tricky to do well, and Google in August made it even harder when it began adding other factors to the ad-ranking mix, including some it wouldn’t disclose.

“It’s become more of a black box, because they don’t tell you specifically what those attributes are, nor do they explain the interplay between them,” Stylman said. “The opacity of the auction is making it more challenging to manage.”

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A Stab At Changing the Paradigm [7:42 am]

Microsoft tests ‘pay as you go’ computers [pdf]

In a departure from their traditional business models, Microsoft and hardware makers will test a pay-as-you-go plan for PC users in emerging markets around the world — letting consumers buy time on their home computers through prepaid cards and subscriptions.

The initiative, dubbed Microsoft FlexGo, aims to lower the barrier to buying a PC by requiring a smaller initial payment. After paying for minutes on the PC over time, consumers ultimately own it outright — albeit for a higher total cost than if they had paid in full up front.

After quietly testing the concept in Brazil for the past year, Microsoft and its partners are preparing to roll it out for additional tests in other parts of the world. The company will show the technology this week at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.

Related: Mystery deal is high-security chip for ‘FlexGo’ [pdf]

The details of Microsoft Corp.’s mysterious deal with Transmeta Corp. have finally been revealed. And none of the speculation was even close.

The microprocessor company has been working for the past year on a high-security, power-efficient chip for Microsoft’s new “FlexGo” pay-as-you-go PC initiative in developing nations.

Slashdot’s Microsoft Introduces Pay-as-You-Go Computing

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